Taxpayers will be forking out €30 million for the use of a helicopter air ambulance service introduced last year in Gozo by Vitals Global Healthcare.

The financial details of the deal were concealed by the government despite the publication of the concession agreement a few months ago following pressure by the unions and the Nationalist Opposition.

Despite the publication of the more than 150 pages of the ‘Health Services Delivery Agreement’, the government blackened out a third of the clauses included in the deal, citing “commercial sensitive information”.

However  taxpayers will be paying for all the extra costs for the provision of the helicopter service despite the fact that VGH will be getting over €2 billion from the government over the next 30 years through this deal.

This newspaper learnt that the government conceded to fork out an extra €1 million a year over the next 30 years so that VGH can airlift patients from Gozo to Mater Dei hospital in extreme emergency situations.

READ: VGH to get €36m for Barts medical school facility

The deal comes with strings attached, as the number of trips included in the €1 million annual fee must not exceed 200 airlifts a year. This means that VGH will be paid €5,000 per airlift.

It is not known what fees will be paid in case VGH needs to perform more than 200 airlifts a year, which is highly unlikely.

Prior to the introduction of the VGH helicopter, the Armed Forces of Malta used to provide this service with its own helicopters. During the past years, the AFM invested heavily, through millions of euros in EU funds, to buy new helicopters capable of performing the same functions of an air ambulance.

It seems that taxpayers will be subsidising VGH for the helicopter’s medical business use

However, this investment is now not being put to use in the case of Gozo as VGH will be paid separately through this new deal.

“It is positive that VGH has introduced a permanent helicopter service on standby in Gozo as this will shorten the flying time needed in case of emergencies,” a senior Gozitan medical practitioner told The Sunday Times of Malta.

“However, the deal with VGH is too one-sided and I would have expected that since taxpayers will be forking out more than €70 million a year, the least the government could negotiate was to incorporate the air ambulance service as part of the overall concession fee,” he said.

Apart from using the helicopter to ferry patients to Mater Dei in extreme cases, VGH will also be using the same helicopter to ferry fee-paying medical tourism patients arriving in Malta for treatment in Gozo.

“Having this helicopter service is very attractive for paying medical tourists. The problem is that it seems that taxpayers will be subsidising VGH for the helicopter’s medical business use.”

The controversial deal to privatise three public hospitals – Karen Grech and St Luke’s in Malta and the Gozo General Hospital – was negotiated and signed by Konrad Mizzi when he was health minister.

At the time, Chris Fearne, who was then parliamentary secretary for health, distanced himself from the deal stating that he was only involved in the medical aspects of the agreement.

Though Mr Fearne has always maintained that VGH would be paid the same amount of money which the government used to fork out to cover the three facilities and the services given – some €55 million a year – this is not the case.

According to the unpublished parts of the agreement, the government agreed to pay some €188,000 a day to hire beds at the three medical facilities for the next 30 years. The fees do not include another €36 million for a medical campus which is still to be built for Barts of London, €30 million for the helicopter service and millions in payments for extra services over and above established thresholds in medicinal and pharmaceutical needs and surgery.

This newspaper is also informed that the government will also be paying millions extra a year for services given from a new dermatology outpatients centre to be set up at St Luke’s Hospital. The centre is currently at Boffa Hospital.

Despite the fact that the agreement envisages the reaching of various key targets in the provision of medical services, The Sunday Times of Malta is informed that these have fallen behind.

ivan.camilleri@timesofmalta.com

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